Life… is funny. I don’t need to tell you that. Anyone afforded the great privilege of living long enough will be finely attuned to the vast absurdities that occur on a daily basis. The anomalies. The coincidences. The luck. The misfortune. And as I was gratefully subject of such a peculiar day of coincidences last week, I couldn’t help but to share a brief tale and try to explain what it all means to me.
The city of Los Angeles has 3,792,621 inhabitants at last count. Those souls, mainly consisting of dreamers, those who once dreamed, and others just stuck in traffic on the freeway, live on a plot of land of roughly 503 square miles. And these are just the Los Angeles City totals, with the whole of Los Angeles County accounting for 10.17 million residents over 4,751 square miles when you include the various neighborhoods. I don’t mention this as a civics lesson, but rather just to point out that even in places where hour-plus commutes are the norm and public transportation is decidedly less than ideal, the world can sometimes seem incredibly small.
Of course, none of this was on my mind when I parked at an overpriced meter on Colorado Boulevard last Wednesday. As Southern California culture is built around the automobile, finding a parking spot in Los Angeles is usually a breeze. Being able to understand the often contradictory messages relayed by the multiple parking signs can be less so.
After emptying the entirety of my ash tray/spare change holder into the greedy meter, I looked up and down the wide street for oncoming traffic. I safely jaywalked to the other side. Part of me was keeping an eye out for picky police officers (yes, they give jaywalking tickets in Los Angeles), but mostly I was going over my pre-meeting notes in my head.
I’d never met with this particular advertising agency before. One of the larger agencies in the city, the bulk of their clients were titans of the automotive industry. Being a fitness and lifestyle photographer, theirs wasn’t a lobby I ever expected to walk through. But a chance encounter at a networking event, and a handful of emails later, I had somehow managed to open a new door. Eventually. I’ll skip over the part of the story where I had trouble actually finding the front door of the building, instead somewhat finding myself on the reverse side of the building, portfolio in hand, staring at the company loading dock and hoping no one saw me as I nonchalantly backpedaled to street level.
Once inside, I sat down with my new contact for the all vital in-person meeting. Leafing through my portfolio and discussing my work, the discussion quickly moved into talks of a potential opportunity to create work for one of their key clients. The usual five to ten minute meet-and-greet actually lasted nearly a half hour. Smiles and handshakes exchanged. It couldn’t have gone better. Well... until I tried to exit through the wrong door.
I have to get better at my sense of direction.
I finally made it out of the building and across the street where my car was parked at the quickly emptying meter. I loosened my collar and removed my sport jacket, folding it neatly onto the passenger seat to avoid wrinkles. I closed the door, but before rounding the vehicle to get behind the wheel, I took a moment to smell the roses. Closed my eyes. Let the fresh air fill my lungs and took time to recognize how fortunate I am to even have these kind of opportunities.
It wasn’t until I reopened my eyes that I realized that I was standing in front of a church. And, no, this is not the part of the story where I veer off into a discussion of religion. In this case, it was the building itself that is the significant part of the story.
Actually, the area of significance isn’t the church at all, but the small community center nestled just behind it. At first sight of it, my mind was immediately overwhelmed by a sense of deja vu. Somehow I knew for certain that I’d been there before. On that corner. In that exact spot. I wasn’t sure why. But, I definitely had seen that church before. Then, suddenly it hit me.
The reason I didn’t instantly recognize it was because the last time I was there had been under the guise of night. On that night, I was also wearing a sport coat and jeans, but the shaking legs beneath me seemed to be on far less stable ground.
I remember doing my best to obscure the sound of my clattering knees as I walked nervously past the church and down the alley leading to the community center and the increasingly blaring music. It was about seven years ago and this was the night of my first exhibition.
Only a few years into my career, I was still getting my feet wet. I’d had some success. I’d been published in some big magazines. Had a client or two. I had often dreamt of being one of those photographers whose shows I had seen in galleries around town, but this night was the first opportunity I had to actually make that dream come true.
It was a group show. Part of the annual Month of Photography Los Angeles which highlights artists from across the city. That night was one part exhibition, one part party. A collection of about five or six artists put together a slideshow of about twenty images each and the work was projected onto a massive screen hanging high above the outdoor courtyard. Energetic and gradually inebriated guests stood below, viewing the work between exchanging business cards and trips to the catered taco truck.
As I entered the courtyard that night, it all seemed so unreal. All these people in one place. Hundreds of people standing there looking at my work. Mine. It was a dream come true. A goal that I had been too afraid to audibly admit that I wanted, and not one I had really truly believed was going to actually ever happen. Certainly, not outside of the bounds of my own imagination. Yet there I was. I could now say that my work had been in an exhibition. It actually happened. Surely, it couldn’t get better than that.
And now some seven years later, as I found myself standing outside of the exact same building out of sheer coincidence, again living out a reality that at one point I thought to only be a pipe dream, I couldn’t help but to be amused by life’s unpredictability.
Back on the day of first exhibition, I could never have known that it would be just the first of many. Back then, I was toiling away at a dead-end day job, creating art as a release valve for hope as much as doing so with any expectation of one day having a real career. To even posit that one day I would have the opportunity to shoot for real clients, nonetheless some of the world’s biggest brands, would have elicited instant laughter and a reflexive sarcastic retort meant to downplay even the mere possibility and spare myself what I expected to be the inevitable disappointment.
But one day, I dared to dream and the dream came true. On that day I could only remember thinking to myself that things couldn’t get better that they were that day. Seven years later, orchestrated by a universe filled with a sense of humor, I found myself in the exact same spot saying the exact same thing.
My story isn’t unique. Remember, I’m only one of 10.17 million people just living here in the City of Angels. What’s your story? Think about how far you’ve come. Think about how far you can go. What street corner will you be standing on seven years from today thinking back on the time you thought to yourself, “It can’t get better than this”? And then it did.